Fritz Pettyjohn: What to expect — or not to expect — from Juneau this session



We know what the big issue will be when the legislature convenes next week. It’s been the same fight for last five years. For four months (or five, or six) they’ll debate, “How big will the PFD be?”

There’s no reason to expect that this will be the last such fight. The legislature is divided, and both political parties are divided. The people of Alaska are divided. The only way to resolve the issue, once and for all, is by amending the Alaska Constitution. Putting a formula into law won’t help, as we learned in 2016. Gov. Bill Walker’s veto of the dividend amount was in violation of the law, but the Supreme Court said that didn’t matter. Passing a new law wouldn’t accomplish a thing.

And a new statute is the best we can expect, according to Senate President Pete Micciche. He said as much in a recent podcast with MRAK. He wants a 50-50 split of Permanent Fund earnings, with half going to the dividend. He said getting eleven votes in the Senate and 21 in the House will be a challenge. He’s in a position to know. That means getting 14 in the Senate, and 27 in the House to propose a constitutional amendment just isn’t going to be possible.

Since the legislature has proven itself incapable of settling this dispute, it’s up to the people. Do they trust themselves with such a decision? Or would they rather let Alaska’s politicians continue to deal with it? If they have faith in their own judgement, they’ll vote for a constitutional convention in November.

If they do vote yes, the legislature will decide when and where the convention would be held, how long it would last, and how the delegates will be elected. Parts of the law in effect today, SLA Alaska 1955 ch. 46, are obsolete.

The old statute did set up a system which resulted in an outstanding cross section of Alaska’s most thoughtful citizens (only eight of them legislators). They proposed a model Constitution, which Alaskans have been generally satisfied with, up to now. But the men and women who wrote our Constitution didn’t know there was going to be a Permanent Fund, much less a dividend. 

They did realize that situations might arise in the future which required amending the Constitution. And they understood that such needed amendments might never get the 2/3 vote needed for the legislature to propose it. In this case, the legislature itself is the problem, and it can’t fix itself. Because of the foresight of the framers of Alaska’s Constitution, we’ve had a chance every ten years to vote for a convention, to break the legislative gridlock. When they gave voters this power, they necessarily believed they could be trusted with it. Do we?

The opponents of the dividend will try to convince voters that a convention simply can’t be trusted. It might propose something radical, which would be ratified by the people, because the people can’t be trusted. 

Alaskan voters have a right to know where candidates for the Legislature, and governor, stand on this issue. They also need to know how the the 1955 law currently in place will be amended. Such legislation should be introduced, and debated, this year. People need to know what to expect if they do vote yes.

It’s not entirely clear where Gov. Mike Dunleavy stands on this issue. Perhaps he still hopes that somehow the Legislature will propose a constitutional solution to this problem. Since that’s almost certain not to happen, he should introduce a bill setting out the procedures he would prefer for the convention, so that voters will have some idea of what to expect if the call for a convention is approved. 

As governor of this state, he has an obligation to lead.

Fritz Pettyjohn served in the Alaska legislature in the 1980’s, and has practiced law in Alaska since 1974.


  1. Btw, reinforcements aren’t coming. Unelected agencies are seizing powers never delgated to them by the US Constitution, more than a boatload of OUR rights. Our right to locomotion is jeered at and impeded by our idiot cohorts. The democrats are not available to be part of solutions.

  2. Be Careful What You Wish For.

    Those “people [who, maybe actually,] can’t be trusted” recently approved Proposition 2 for ranked choice voting, so maybe that’s something to consider when talking about amending the constitution. I imagine the likes of Soros are salivating at the chance to tamper with this fundamental document, and they have more than enough money to flood the airwaves with nonsense obfuscations [remember their hypocritically absurd ads about dark money coming into the state?] to convince just enough voters to get their way.

    • Soros won’t control the delegates to the convention. They will be prominent, trusted and respected members of their community. Prop 2 could never have passed the legislature, much less a convention. The money that paid to get the signatures that put it on the ballot didn’t come from Soros, but it was dark money, just like his. He’s just part of the problem. The people of Alaska want to keep dark money from influencing our elections. Maybe a constitutional convention could devise an amendment to do it. It would certainly be ratified.

      • Fritz,
        There’s absolutely no way to know that the delegates would be prominent, trusted and respected members of their community or that they would do what you want them to do. Even if they were prominent, trusted and respected members of their community that doesn’t mean they would do what you want them to do.

  3. The “safe workplace of OSH” does not include unlicensed practice of medicine a fact being intentionally obscured by the 42 year-old jabberwocky entrancing scotus right now.

  4. Have you read Mason’s Manual the rulebook for constititional group behavior? The legislature can and should fix itself. From time to time they throw out a member who slaps a women or reporters or who behaves lustfully. They can throw out elected members who are ignorant of the constitution or are oppositional to its tenets. They can remove those who parrot nazi maxims which resulted in Nuremberg Trial death sentences long ago. They can review unconstitutional behavior in corporations pursuant to their creation and the state constitution who intentionally act in opposition to law like refusing to hold elections or allow attendance by the public when it is known that the corona virus is another term for common cold which is a seasonal respiratory ailment in northern hemispheres from creation and eviction from the Garden of Eden. The legislators know this or reasonably can come to know it or they are willful cretins as well and unqualified to legislate. We shun those not of sound mind as a qualifier for legislator which we have a right and duty to do.

  5. “…….Since the legislature has proven itself incapable of settling this dispute, it’s up to the people. Do they trust themselves with such a decision?…….”
    I do not, but I sadly agree that the Legislature (members of which were elected by the very people you think are going to somehow, magically rise to the occasion like Cincinnatus) has repeatedly failed to live up to their responsibility. I fail to see how 700,000 people will virtuously do what 60 of their duly elected representatives cannot. The one saving grace of your faith is the potential that a constitutional amendment (for either good or ill) will put an end to the gridlock, but issues of the past (slavery, abortion, etc) has already proven that faith to be elusive. Greed is a powerful sin. I don’t believe Alaska’s Constitution can defeat it.

    • The people I expect to rise to the occasion will be the delegates to the convention. I’m not asking the people to come up with the solution. That’s the job of the delegates, and the convention. If it’s a good solution, I just do expect the people to ratify it.

    • Jefferson, you appear to be an artsy fellow, your writing certainly highlights your creative abilities and is appreciated by most including me. Given the use of artistic license such as portraying elements like foreshadowing, I think Suzanne hit the ball out of the park with that picture of a gloomy, dark, uninhabited South Franklin Street scene. The article by Pettyjohn was a skimmer at best, but that picture! Let me explain to those that may not be not familiar with the history of Juneau and South Franklin street. The pride of Juneau for nearly a century was the Baranof Hotel, just one hundred feet North of where the picture was taken. Here was where one could get an excellent dinner surrounded by masterpiece paintings by Ziegler or Laurence. The bar was always a meeting place for the movers and shakers of Alaska and the lobby was generally filled with Legislators and their significant others. A lively and welcoming environment. But today I am told the Baranof isn’t even open, closed and boarded up?
      Is this photo representative of Alaska today? Closed and boarded up, lonely and dark? Political adversaries no longer meet in a social setting and overcome their differences? Perhaps.

      • I used to like hanging out with other legislators at the Baranof bar. That’s where Democratic Senator Frank Ferguson of Kotzebue told me my stay in the Senate would be short. Fergie knew something I didn’t, and he was right. We were on opposite sides, but we got along just fine. Especially after a few beers. Memories.

  6. It’s a people issue. Too many people are dependent on some form of government whether they are employee or beneficiary. How many of those government employees should be a small business owner or working for a private business instead of government work. The Legislature has a big government to pay for, they will love to take the small amount shared out to the public and add it to what is used for government. You know what, I grew up in a government town and the community is boring. Government towns have a way of closing people in.

  7. Well the constitution you have was written by leftist attorneys from California. You may be at risk opening it up, but you also have a judiciary that is fully aware they can manipulate the current text because it was written by like minded activists. You can be bold or you can stay the course. How’s the latter worked out?

  8. Better idea- petition. Petition and have it put on the ballot as one voting option- term limits, voters decide if legislators get pay raises or pay decreases for performance and all Alaskans get reimbursed for the PFD money legislators have stolen from them, yearly PFD earnings of 25% are doled from the fund to the state government and not a penny more and any increase would have to be voted on by the people of Alaska.

    This will pass because Jay Hammond was right that Alaskans like money.

  9. The biggest problem with the pro convention side is they simply do not want to talk about Article 13, Section 4 of the Alaska Constitution that says “Constitutional conventions shall have plenary power to amend or revise the constitution, subject only to ratification by the people. No call for a constitutional convention shall limit these powers of the convention.” To those who don’t know, plenary means unlimited. I’m not saying we should or shouldn’thave a convention, I am still undecided. But if the pro convention side refuses to acknowledge this it will make my decision easy.
    There is almost every reason to think that after a convention there could be no dividend and there very well could be no Permanent Fund. There are people of all political persuasions who would be more than happy to take all the money in the fund and use it how they best see fit.

    • Steve-O, read my comment below. Let me cash-out my $100k share out of the fund while you leave your share in the fund. You may feel the need to have government bureaucrats manage your money while I do not. Its the most fair, democratic, solution.

  10. PROPOSAL. The Permanent Fund is $74B; the population is 740k. Ironically, each Alaskan has about $100k in equity. I propose an initiative petition to liquidate the fund on an optional basis. Those Alaskans wanting their share in cash will receive complete payout net of taxes etc (probably about $75,000 net cash per person). On the other hand, those Alaskans wanting the state government to manage their equity can choose to leave their share bound in the fund. To each his own and everyone can live with their free choice. Of course, parents would choose for their minor children.

    • You’d need to amended the constitution to do that, a petition can’t do that. Of course opening up a constitutional convention gives you and others access to all that money. I’m guessing there are more people interested in getting their hands on that money than not, but I’m also guessing more of them have different goals in mind that an equitable distribution of funds to every man, woman, and child in Alaska.

      • Steve-O, the proposal from Wayne above has a few flaws as you have noted. I think Wayne’s proposal is based upon one that I and a learned friend of mine generated over three decades ago and gave to Wayne for his reading pleasure. The proposal appears below.

        “Every year 100% of the entire funds EARNINGS will be made available for the PFD disbursement ”

        The principal of the Fund cannot by law be touched and the proposal never sought to do that since it would be both illegal and permanently end a PFD.
        This proposal would have merely changed the existing statue which has a long wordy description containing five year rolling averages of earnings, the placement of Venus in the House of Aquarius, and if it Snowed in Ketchikan.

        However since the Legislature and now two Guv’s have decided they can ignore State Law it’s all for nothing anyway. The beauty of the proposal was to disperse available sums directly to the populace before the Political Parasitic class would have access to the Moolah.

        • Robert,
          Thanks for the history, your proposal seems much more doable than the one Wayne brought up, especially given the times. Back the, heck a handful of years ago the dividend wasn’t an appropriation. But now that the AK Supreme Court has ruled it is, that changes things…a petition will not be allowed by law. Wayne seems to have missed that.

      • You are right to say we need to amend the constitution to distribute the fund. Of course, the initiative petition would dictate we embark on a process that includes such amendment. With enough will of the people these things are possible. The key element to the movement would be that you can choose to let state government retain custody of your share while I assume custody of mine. You cannot contend I am imposing my will upon you.

        • Wayne,
          A few key points you seem to be missing, according to the AK Constitution Section 11.7 Restrictions says:
          The initiative shall not be used to dedicate revenues, make or repeal appropriations, create courts, define the jurisdiction of courts or prescribe their rules, or enact local or special legislation. The referendum shall not be applied to dedications of revenue, to appropriations, to local or special legislation, or to laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety.
          Alaska Statutes also prevents your petition, Sec. 15.45.010. Provision and scope for use of the initiative says:
          The law-making powers assigned to the legislature may be exercised by the people through the initiative. However, an initiative may not be proposed to dedicate revenue, to make or repeal appropriations, to create courts, to define the jurisdiction of courts or prescribe their rules, or to enact local or special legislation.
          While you or I might think your petition idea is worthwhile and who knows with these courts, maybe they will too, the AK Constitution, AK Statutes, and recent judicial rulings say your petition cannot go forward.

        • Let’s not forget Article XIII Section 1 of the AK Constitution that says:
          Amendments to this constitution may be proposed by a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature. The lieutenant governor shall prepare a ballot title and proposition summarizing each proposed amendment, and shall place them on the ballot for the next general election. If a majority of the votes cast on the proposition favor the amendment, it shall be adopted. Unless otherwise provided in the amendment, it becomes effective thirty days after the certification of the election returns by the lieutenant governor.
          There simply is no avenue for advancing your petition.

          • Steve-O, I see you have carefully reviewed the pertinent documents. However, I respectfully contend that where there is a will there is a way. The voters could insist upon re-writing the constitution as necessary. After all, it is only GOD’s LAW that we are unable to change.

  11. Can you stop posting Fritz’s constitutional convention schlepping, please. No one is interested in rewriting the states constitution , with god knows who as delegates. Why is he so concerned with opening Pandora’s box, forever changing our states constitution? No matter who the delegates are it will not end well for the average everyday Alaskan.

    • Its inaccurate to say “no one.” Count me as one who would toss the entire document and start over. Let the chips fall.

  12. For the most part a very decent conversation here. Being ever the optimist I have hope that current oil prices ($80+ and every expectations the price will go higher ) should satisfy the bureaucracy and make it more likely a PFD solution can be found. But the realist in me knows it’s never enough for the “public service” unions and NGOs supporting government dependency.

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